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Ever mistype your query in a search engine? Or just flat out misspell it? Of course you have—we all do, especially when our search involves “spelling demons” like minuscule, millennium, or embarrassment. Or personal names: believe it or not, there are more than 500 ways that Britney Spears has been misspelled on the web. Misspellings and typos make it difficult for search engines to give users the best results.
Better spelling algorithms can get users to the information they seek, without their having to carry around a dictionary or scroll through several pages of results. Quality spelling algorithms become even more relevant when the searcher is using a smartphone, as it is difficult to browse through page after page of results on those tinier screens.
With this in mind, Microsoft Research and Microsoft Bing launched the Speller Challenge, encouraging participants worldwide to compete in creating a spelling algorithm that generates the most plausible alternatives for web search queries. Participants were able to access real-world data at web scale by using the Microsoft Research Web N-gram Services. Moreover, participants were able to improve their algorithm and see how it compared to other spelling correction systems by using an evaluation service that we made available to them.
More than 300 participants registered for the Speller Challenge, representing every continent (well almost; no one actually registered from Antarctica) and including researchers from academia, research laboratories, and industry. Winners were automatically selected, based on how well their system performed with respect to figuring out the best spelling alternatives (for example, “Britney Spears” for “briteny spears”). On Tuesday, July 19, we hosted a workshop at Bing headquarters, where Harry Shum, corporate vice president of Bing, presented the winners their prizes. Congratulations to everyone who took part in the program:
Finally, here are a few remarks from first-place winner Gord Lueck:
“Microsoft has been a leader in offering visibility into search data for research purposes. Big data is the driver of many of the tools that make the Internet useful. Through Microsoft, some of that data is now available to the community at large to build up and design algorithms with. It’s this generosity and openness that has allowed many independent researchers, such as myself, to design a high quality software product that leverages these valuable data.
“A very good quality dataset for training was given to the researchers, providing a benchmark against which to compare their work in near real-time against other researchers in the same field. This quick feedback cycle undoubtedly helps to accelerate the pace of research beyond that which might have occurred in an environment where data and methods are hoarded and protected.”
Gord also noted that the competition focused on U.S. English spellings, pointing out that “it would have been nice to see some more variety in input languages and grammars.” Sounds like an idea for another contest!
—Evelyne Viegas, Director of Semantic Computing, Microsoft Research Connections
All too often, IT development takes place in an environment where men outnumber women, which affects the diversity of thought in the workforce. Here at Microsoft Research Connections, we are committed to working with the computing industry to help ensure that there is a good balance of bright minds from both genders to help further innovation.
With that in mind, Microsoft Research Connections will again participate in the Women in Technology (WIT) workshop during the Brazilian Computing Society’s annual conference in July. The workshop uses lectures and meetings to focus on issues that are related to women’s digital literacy and their access to IT jobs, with a goal of increasing the participation of women in Brazil’s IT industry.
Gayna Williams will represent Microsoft at this year’s WIT workshop, where she will deliver a lecture titled, “The Need for Female Voices in Software Development.” Williams, a 17-year veteran of Microsoft, is currently a principal user experience manager who is responsible for a “future directions” team in the Online Services division. As a woman who has helped design a wide range of consumer and enterprise software, Williams is well qualified to explain the need for a female perspective in the development process.
In particular, she will discuss how the advent of connectivity and mobile technologies have blurred the boundaries between software for work environments and for the home, infusing technology more and more deeply into a diversity of environments and lifestyles. This development has led companies to think more seriously about increasing the appeal of their products to female users.
Williams’ lecture will discuss how, despite this change in thinking, the over-representation of men in the software design process perpetuates an unintentional focus on attributes that appeal to male users. Williams will emphasize that developers must make a conscious effort to design IT products for women—it won’t take place by accident or even because of a corporate embrace of user-centered design processes. Therefore, women in the IT world are encouraged to voice their concerns to ensure that the female perspective is represented.
The outcome will be not only better products for all users, but also greater success for the businesses that produce them. If you’re interested in improving IT products by making sure that the needs and values of both genders are considered during the engineering process, we encourage you to attend the workshop.
—Juliana Salles, Senior Research Program Manager, Microsoft Research Connections
When is the best time to be in Moscow? For 82 young computer-science researchers, the answer is July 28 to August 3, 2011. Not only is that usually one of summer’s warmest weeks in the Russian capital, it is also the week that the Microsoft Computer Vision School will take place at the Lomonosov Moscow State University.
The school offers advanced undergraduates, doctoral students, young scientists, and developers a unique opportunity to learn from top scientists in the field of computer vision and image analysis. Courses will cover the fundamentals of the field and explore the latest research. The school also provides a great venue for networking, enabling the students to establish connections with each other and the school lecturers. Offering lectures, practical sessions, poster presentations, and a programming project, the Microsoft Computer Vision School aims to:
The Microsoft Research Computer Vision School 2011 will be held at Lomonosov Moscow State University
The Microsoft Computer Vision School is sponsored by Microsoft Research and organized in cooperation with Lomonosov Moscow State University. It follows the highly successful MIDAS 2010 and HPC 2009 schools and represents another of the many collaborative efforts between Microsoft Research Connections and the world’s top academic institutions.
Competition for admission to the school was particularly intense. The number of registrations at the school website exceeded 500, and the overall acceptance rate was fewer than 20 percent. Many of the applications were exceptionally strong, which made the decision process extremely difficult. The 82 admitted students come from 32 cities in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus and represent 48 academic institutions and companies. They, and we, are looking forward to a stimulating, information-packed experience—and maybe a few warm evenings in Red Square. —Fabrizio Gagliardi, Director, Microsoft Research Connections EMEA (Europe, the Middle-East, and Africa)